What Can You Do with an Exercise Science Degree?
If you’re considering pursuing a bachelor’s degree in exercise science, likely you’re asking, “What can you do with an exercise science degree?” As the Coordinator of Troy University’s exercise science program, that’s a question Dr. Michael Green often fields from prospective students. The answer, he says, isn’t straightforward.
Unlike some degrees that lead to specific job outcomes, the exercise science bachelor degree leads to a broad range of careers. At TROY, for example, the exercise science degree has three tracks: nutrition, pre-health and wellness. The exercise science jobs you’ll be qualified for vary depending on your chosen concentration.
“It’s a wide-open field,” Dr. Green says, “so it’s not always easy to answer that question, ‘What can you do with an exercise science degree?’ They’re generally flexible, non-traditional careers. Not many exercise science majors want to spend their time in front of a computer screen. When you graduate from an exercise science program, you’re not likely going to work in an office.”
What Can You Do with an Exercise Degree? One Option: Graduate School
For many, the exercise science bachelor degree is a “stepping stone” to further studies and higher-level jobs, he says.
“A lot of our students go on to graduate studies, especially our nutrition and pre-health students,” Dr. Green notes. “Pre-health students, for example, are using the exercise science degree as their way to get into physical therapy, occupational therapy and physician assistant school. That’s what they end up going into three or four years later after they’ve got their graduate degree.”
A smaller group of pre-health students, he says, goes on to chiropractic school after earning the exercise science bachelor’s degree. Graduate school is also attractive for those pursuing the nutrition concentration because many want to become dietitians. He says students in the wellness track are more likely to go straight into exercise science jobs after completing their undergraduate studies.
Exercise Science Jobs Possible with Bachelor’s Degree
If your goal is to complete your bachelor degree and start your career in exercise science, opportunities are plentiful and varied, Dr. Green says. TROY alumn Payton Wallace Johnson currently works as a physical therapist at Rehab Associates in Millbrook, Alabama. In her role, she evaluates patients who’ve experienced injury or illness, develops treatment plans for those conditions and provides evidence-based interventions to help patients reach their functional goals.
“The most rewarding part of my job is having the opportunity to help and serve others on a daily basis,” says Johnson. “Because I am able to spend more time with my patients than many other health care professions, I get to build relationships with my patients that go beyond just a clinical partnership.”
Exercise science jobs can also include the following positions:
- Exercise physiologist: You’ll assess patients’ fitness levels and develop personalized exercise programs for them. For some jobs, you may need a master’s degree and/or certification such as the ASEP or the ACSM.
- Physical therapy aide: You’ll assist physical therapists in providing care for patients recovering from injury, illness or surgery.
- Wellness coordinator: You’ll plan, implement and lead wellness programs and initiatives for organizations, corporations and businesses.
- Personal trainer: You’ll create personalized fitness plans for clients.
- Athletic trainer: You’ll work with athletes to help them prevent injuries.
- Medical sales representative: You’ll sell and market medical products, such as pharmaceutical drugs and equipment, to health care professionals and institutions.
Dr. Green worked as a wellness coordinator for Toyota in California after graduating from TROY with an undergraduate degree in sport and fitness management in 2000. After six months, he knew the job was not a good fit for him. A scientist, he was interested in conducting research, so he returned to TROY, earned a master’s in sport and fitness management and then a doctorate in sport science from Georgia State University.
A native of Great Britain, Dr. Green was recruited by TROY as an undergraduate for track and field and cross country. He earned nine individual conference titles, including the still-standing record for 3,000 meters. In 1998, he became the first TROY cross-country team member to be named an Academic All-American.
He returned to TROY in 2007 to teach and helped create the exercise science program, which launched in 2015.
“We’re very proud of it,” he says. “We had 150 students before we even started the program, and now we’re over 500.”
Prepare for Exercise Science Jobs in State-of-the-Art Facilities
The Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion will soon be housed, along with the School of Nursing, in Jones Hall, TROY’s new Health Sciences building. Slated to open in 2024, the facility will include applied physiology and sports science labs, movement education labs and an auditorium. With it, the department quadruples its space, Dr. Green says.
“We’ve already been very successful without it, so we’ll only get better with the new building,” Dr. Green says.
Even as undergraduates, students will have access to state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, including Olympic lifting platforms and metabolic carts, which measure oxygen consumption during exercise.
Consider Curriculum When Choosing an Exercise Science Program
Those considering an exercise science bachelor’s degree program should not just look at an institution’s facilities and equipment when deciding where to pursue their degree. TROY, for example, is committed to turning out well-rounded graduates prepared for both graduate school and to go directly into exercise science jobs. Curriculum and hands-on experience play a big part in that.
“I tell students that everything you need to know is in this book,” he says, holding up an exercise physiology book. “If you read that and understand it, you’ve got the content. But do you know how to design a study and then display and present your data? Do you know how to make an Excel spreadsheet? Do you know how to make a scatter plot? Those are skills that help them to function in the workplace. They’re going into environments where they’re expected to not only know the content but to be able to apply it properly.”
Payton Johnson can also speak to the benefits of TROY’s curriculum and professors. She adds, “The Kinesiology and Health Promotion department at TROY has a much smaller teacher to student ratio compared to other colleges within the state of Alabama. The professors know each student by name and are readily available to assist in any way needed to ensure each student is successful.”
Bachelor’s Degree Provides Solid Foundation for Exercise Physiologist Salary
Beyond coursework, TROY students also prepare for exercise science jobs through required 135-hour internships. This hands-on, real-world training can show them what their future career may look like. He says that for some, that means choosing a different career path altogether.
Those who do well in class and their internships are well-positioned to be hired for exercise science jobs, he adds.
“It’s your chance to shine,” he says. “We can only do so much in the classroom and lab. They have to get practical experience.”
Dr. Green and other faculty members also encourage students to shadow professionals so they can see early on if they are on the right career path. Doing so gives them a clear answer to, “What can you do with an exercise science degree?”
Johnson agrees, advising prospective students “If you are considering a career in the healthcare profession as a physical therapist, occupational therapist or physician assistant upon graduation, I would recommend reaching out to a local clinician in the field of interest to set up a time to shadow or observe them for a day. This will give you insight on what their job consists of, and if you could see yourself in their shoes in a few years!”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median pay in May 2021 for exercise physiologists with a bachelor’s degree was $47,940. The job outlook is strong, with the employment of exercise physiologists expected to grow 9% through 2031 — faster than the average for all occupations.
ACSM and NSCA Certifications Open Doors to Additional Exercise Science Jobs
With certifications from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), an exercise physiologist salary jumps to $57,501-$60,000 and clinical exercise directors can expect to make an average of $85,800, according to the ACSM. “We encourage our students, especially in the wellness concentration, to get certifications, particularly those offered through ACSM and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). They’re hard to get, but if you do, it’s a big deal.”
TROY offers courses that can help students pursuing their bachelor’s degree in exercise science to gain certifications from ACSM and NSCA. He says it helps that TROY faculty hold certifications from those governing bodies.
It’s just another way TROY helps students prepare for good-paying and rewarding exercise science jobs — and to get into graduate and professional schools at places like Alabama State, University of Alabama – Birmingham and Samford University, Dr. Green says.
“We have a sense of ownership in our program because we’ve made it and shaped it,” he says. “We’ve changed over the years. We’ve become more research-based, more scientific. We started as a physical education program back in the day, so we have a rich history. We’ve not totally given up what we used to be, but we’ve had to change as the world changes. Our new facilities are going to be the cherry on top.”
Learn More About TROY’s Exercise Science Bachelor Degree
What can you do with an exercise science degree? Explore TROY’s exercise science program to learn how it will prepare you for a wide variety of exercise science jobs.
“I am glad I chose TROY for my degree because I was beyond prepared for the course work in physical therapy school. The knowledge and skills that I attained through TROY helped set me apart from other physical therapy school applicants.” Payton Wallace Johnson, B.S. Exercise Science, 2018